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Behind-the-scenes of eTown Hall and Recording Studio, Part 2

In Boulder, Colo., live music every week from one of the most green performance venues in the country. eTown plays host to some of the biggest name musical artists and it was SIA Acoustics that handled the room treatment, sound system and recording studio.

Behind-the-scenes of eTown Hall and Recording Studio, Part 2

Apr 17, 2014 12:10 PM,
With Bennett Liles

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Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.

In Boulder, Colo., live music every week from one of the most green performance venues in the country. eTown plays host to some of the biggest name musical artists and it was SIA Acoustics that handled the room treatment, sound system and recording studio. Sam Berkow is going to give us a behind the scenes look at it all right now on the SVC Podcast.

Sam Berkow from the SIA Acoustics LA office. Thanks for being back with us for Part 2 talking about eTown, the site of a weekly live music performance and a national radio show, recording studio and a roof full of solar panels. SIA Acoustics got it started from the ground up making the performance venue itself sound right and then installing the whole sound system for the shows. Sam, what did you go with and what was the general design idea when it came to the sound system for eTown Hall?

We always look at the ability of the system to cover the audience seating area; we look for a configuration. But because it’s a relatively simple-shaped rectangular room and because it’s not very big, there were a wide range of products that we could use. The client doesn’t very often have shows where there are rider acceptances. This isn’t a big issue. People come to eTown to be part of the eTown experience, so most bands don’t have very much in terms of demands for the PA. They’re happy to have a console they know and a speaker system that works well. Nick and his team came out and we spent a lot of time listening, and because the emphasis was on acoustic music, they selected the Alcons line array, which was an usual choice. The high frequency device is a hybrid ribbon. It’s not really a ribbon, it’s not really electrostatic, it’s sort of a hybrid between the two and it gives a very, very, very detailed, high-frequency response. We used that speaker in another project in the city of Doha in the country of Qatar, believe it or not, for a jazz and Lincoln Center venue that we opened there about a year and a half ago and found it to be an extremely responsive system with a particular emphasis on transient response. Given that Nick plays the bass, the guitar, the mandolin, peddle steel, there’s lots of acoustic instruments and these hybrid ribbons aren’t asked to reproduce super high volumes and seem to work really well at moderate levels. They really work nicely. So that was the main house system. The console, we wanted to pick something that sounded good, that offered plug-in capability, that had an easy tie to the recording system, that most people would know and we picked the Avid SC48 which is one of those great tools that is just a tremendous value. eTown owns a number of high-end preamps and when the need arises for specialty preamps they just bring some up from the studio to enhance the SC48. But it really provides a very, very workable solution for this size venue. [Timestamp: 3:40]

Very easy to operate.

Very easy. I think that particularly users fall into two classes. One, people who don’t know how to set up the system but can operate the channels very easily; so setting up an EQ, a compressor, a delay, pan and gain is almost instantly obvious. The second users want to set up busses and sends and do things and the patch base, fairly straightforward, but because everything is patched almost the same way all the time at eTown, it’s really a very simple system for a user who doesn’t know it to come in and spend 20 minutes and they’re pretty much ready to run a show. [Timestamp: 4:28]

How do you connect all of that to the stage end of things?

There are a couple of different ways to do it. One way is there’s a fiber or CAT-6 connection that goes from the console back to a stage box. We take it back and go to a splitter system. There’s a four-way split. One split goes out to an external loading dock where if someone wanted to pull up a recording truck they could. One split goes to front of house. Another split goes to the monitor position and the last split goes down to the recording studio. [Timestamp: 4:59]

Alright, so you’ve got everything where you need it.


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Behind-the-scenes of eTown Hall and Recording Studio, Part 2

Apr 17, 2014 12:10 PM,
With Bennett Liles

I would think that it would be flexible enough where you could do just about anything in there then.

That’s the idea. The idea is that if you want to record at the front-of-house position, you can use what’s called the spigot off the console. You can have a rack on stage with a recording system that’s come off of the transformer isolated splits. You can go down to the recording studio and take an AV feed from downstairs and be in a full recording studio environment. The studio itself has a D-Command 24 controller as the desk and the small ATC monitors has the mains. It’s a beautiful sounding room, very typical of the rooms we’ve been building for the last few years with splayed sidewalls, asymmetric rear corners and a soffit system acting as bass trap. [Timestamp: 5:56]

Now, where’s the recording studio in relation to the live performance hall?

Directly behind it and down, so at the back of the stage there’s a set of stairs that goes down to the studio level. There’s also a set of stairs that goes down in the opposite direction that takes you about a foot-and-a-half above the studio level, which is where the dressing rooms and green rooms are. [Timestamp: 6:17]

I guess since a lot of the performances are acoustic, do they use primarily floor wedges or do they do any in-ear monitoring? How do they handle that?

Because they have different bands every week, the situation changes. If the bands come in we put a second SC48 on stage as a monitor mixer and we’re set up to distribute to in-ears or they can use floor wedges. So we have both. [Timestamp: 6:41]

Alright and since the place was built and completely fitted out for live music rather than being retro-fitted, is it fairly convenient for load-in and load-out?

The load-in/load-out is moderately convenient. Unfortunately it’s up a stair no matter how you go or down six stairs and then up an elevator. So it’s a little bit awkward, but that’s just the nature of the building; there was no way to change that. There was no way to change the location of the elevators or ramps to do that. The upside is there’s very little – relatively very little equipment. People aren’t bringing in PA’s. Most people aren’t bringing in consoles. If they want to, you can bring in a console, but again it’s only up three quarters of a flight of stairs, it’s fairly wide and it brings you right to the back of the house from the front of eTown Hall. There aren’t tons of road cases coming up. To get into the studio you can come from ground level because the studio is below the stage. You can come right in from the street and pull the truck up and roll your road cases into the studio. [Timestamp: 7:45]

Is the recording studio done now or is there another phase to it coming along?

It’s about 90 percent done. Phase one of the project was to build the eTown offices and then below that we built four post-production rooms – a video post room and three audio rooms. The largest of those audio rooms has a voiceover booth. Phase two was the main hall and the studio architectural build-out and the community space – the Bohemian Room. And phase three was the equipment and specialty finishes for the studio and we’re most of the way through phase three. I mean the studio is operating. They’re doing recordings and mixing there regularly, but there’s still some finishes in the big room that haven’t been installed. It should be done by the middle of this year. [Timestamp: 8:38]

I’ve listened to some of the podcasts and they have some mighty good sound coming out of that place. You did a great job on what would seem like a pretty big project so what has SIA Acoustics got coming up?

Yeah, you know it’s funny. I want to go back and comment on your comment about it being a big project because in terms of performing arts center design and the type of projects that we often work on, it turned out to be a very small project. And what we’ve seen over and over again is very small project doesn’t mean easier project. A smaller project can be just as complicated as the biggest projects. In the last year, just about a year ago, we opened the S.F. Jazz Center in San Francisco which is a700-seat hall with a secondary 70-seat performance space that features a large Meyer Sound Lab System – a very large sound system for a 700-seat room doing cardioid subs and long line arrays. And it’s a room that we’re really proud of and we continue to work with them on finishing and tweaking that project. We also are opening Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas which is 2,000-seat rock-and-roll venue that’s really going to change the live music scene in Las Vegas. Brooklyn Bowl started in Brooklyn – in Williamsburg, Brooklyn – and came out of the people who used to run the Wetlands in New York City, a well-known rock-and-roll venue. And Williamsburg provides bowling alleys and a concert venue with about a thousand seats. It’s been so successful that now they’ve opened London and we’re just opening Vegas. [Timestamp: 10:21]

It’s a new show every week and very quick and easy for listeners to access online. It may not be the biggest project that you guys do but certainly one of the more interesting ones.

Yeah. I feel really lucky. I really enjoyed working with Nick Forrester and his team. Nick and Helen have dedicated their lives and their careers to creating eTown as an idea not just a radio show. The idea that music brings people together and can change the world. I was pretty much convinced that was true before I started working on eTown and if anything the fact that eTown Hall exists and has been as successful as it is reinforces that idea for me. [Timestamp: 11:02]

Lots of music coming out of eTown in Boulder, Colorado every week and it’s a big asset to the local community and to public radio as well. It was a great story Sam and I know you had a great time working on it.

We try to have fun in everything we do. We’ve been at this awhile. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on some really great projects around the world and a large number of great musicians, working with them and working with musical organizations. At some point you come to the stunning realization that it’s all about having fun and I’m extremely proud to be part of the eTown design team and part of the eTown family. It’s really a nice thing to see people so dedicated to good music succeed so well. [Timestamp: 11:51]

Alright, Sam Berkow with SIA Acoustics and eTown. Thanks for being here to kind of take us all backstage at this fantastic place.

My pleasure. Have a great day.

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